Money and Friends

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 16:1-13

There are a number of interpretive puzzles in this story of the so-called dishonest manager that forms the gospel reading for this Sunday. I will try to say something about them in due course. First, let us look at the end of the story. Here Jesus is talking, adding some comments to the story he has just told. He concludes these comments by saying that no one can serve two masters for obvious reasons. Then he says, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Whether or not I always serve God, I hesitate to accept the idea that I might be serving wealth. Rather, wealth is there to serve me. I think that is what many of us both in and outside the church think. We are free and wealth or money is to be used by us. It is a tool; it serves us. We may not always use our money wisely, but we definitely use it rather than serve it. Unless we think this, it would be very difficult to sustain the idea that money is something neutral. As long as money is a tool we can treat it as something to be used but it is neither good nor bad in itself. Read more

Lost Sheep and Broken People

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 7:11-14 OR Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15: 1-10

I once imagined the easiest commandment to keep was the one against idolatry. It seemed rather simple: don’t go sacrificing animals to statues of false gods and I’d be fine. I was much younger then. I hadn’t yet lived into life’s ambiguities, hadn’t yet recognized the power of my own desires, hadn’t yet read enough theology – Augustine in particular.

When I understood idolatry as getting the order of my loves wrong, specifically by desiring (and thus secretly worshipping) something more than God, I saw false gods everywhere. Nearly all recorded history – from the founding of ancient Sumer to the unedifying rhetoric of the current US presidential race – can be read through a biblical lens as a very long series of idolatries, all of them sad.

In the same way that a microscope reveals nasty-looking creatures swimming in a glass of tainted water, a biblical lens makes visible the idolatries that reign in what we like to call “the world,” as if we were merely in the world and not of it. The Bible doesn’t cut us much slack when it comes to our dealings with the world. What other nation besides the Jews would include the prophets – those town criers of communal betrayal and merited retribution – in their sacred texts, second only to Torah itself?

As for Christians today, it’s not as if the line between faithful church and idolatrous world is bright, broad, and evident to all. Nor am I one to lecture another on keeping one’s loves in the proper order. If I’m able to rightly name another’s sin, it’s because I know that sin from the inside. Read more

Rejecting the God Who Is

Second Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-20
Mark 3:20-35

Even those sympathetic to the cause of the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were a bit shocked by the brazenness of the young organizer. President Johnson, the same president who would later sign the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts into law, asked King to tone down the spectacle a bit—there were, after all, elections to be won and constituencies to satisfy.

As the Civil Rights movement began to gain strength through the tactics of non-violent resistance, the establishment grew increasingly uncomfortable. White pastors across the South, in an attempt to keep the peace, appealed to King to be patient. Those with less sympathy to the cause of Civil Rights were quick to vilify and attack the calling and character of the preacher-King.

The great irony of all this was that it was taking place in the South, in the midst of one of America’s most deeply religious landscapes. In a time and place where you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t say ‘God is our King,’ or ‘Jesus is our Lord,’ the man whose life so clearly sought to resemble that Lord and King was vilified and ultimately silenced. Read more

Who Decides?

18th Sunday after Pentecost
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 45:1-7 OR Exodus 33:12-13
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Our Gospel lesson is the well-known but short debate between Jesus and the Religious Authorities over rendering taxes to Caesar or to God. It is common for us to hear Jesus saying, “Give unto Caesar that which is his and give unto God that which is his,” as a statement on the separation of Church and State. Only in the most indirect way is this a statement on church and state. It sounds like Jesus is saying that we should balance church and state, God and Caesar; sort of 50/50, half and half kind of approach.

Jesus’ interest has little to do with making a statement about the separation of church and state, which has to do with political involvement by the church in the affairs of state and religious involvement by the state in the affairs of the church. Church/State separation is a constitutional issue and only in an indirect way is related to what Jesus is talking about here. Read more